Spring is the storytelling season for us Jews as we recount the master narrative of Judaism—the exodus from Egypt. Each year I wonder if I can think of another way to guide the conversation and the questions so that we have a chance to share our own exodus stories with family and friends at our table.
On my trip to Israel in March my heart was filled with stories. I heard stories from friends and family members and stories from strangers who shared their art and their lives with our group of artists who traveled together.
Daniel Sahalo is a handsome, young man—the age of my own sons. He's married with two children and he appeared before our group on very short notice dressed in surgeon's scrubs (his Purim costume).After handing his "patient," a small doll, to one of our group, he launched into the story of Megemeria, a project that trains Ethiopian immigrants in Israel to craft jewelry.Not only do the trainees learn the technical skills needed to replicate the designs of others, they are invited to create their own jewelry that reflect their heritage and their sensibility like a Jewish star with One People written in both Hebrew and Amharic.
Each one of the Ethiopians in the program has a story and so does Daniel. When other children were attending kindergarten, his family fled the war and famine of Ethiopia's Gondar province and trekked for months to Sudan.They were leaving their village for the Land of Israel after centuries of isolation and knowing Israel only through their reading of Torah and their prayers.
Like the Israelites led by Moshe through the Sinai desert, Danel's group faced danger at every turn. His group was accosted by robbers. They endured deprivation and deaths along the way.Daniel remembers his sister's death.Once in the Sudan, the Beta Yisrael group was placed in a refugee camp with other Ethiopians fleeing the civil war and the famine of their homeland.There, Beta Yisrael suffered at the hands of the other refugees who saw these Ethiopian Jews as prey.They waited. Daniel's group was fortunate and he was evacuated by the Israelis.The rescue no doubt seemed as miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea, but the details of the Israelis' mission had to remain secret so that more Beta Yisrael could join the exodus before the Sudanese or Ethiopian government intervened.
Daniel's first shock upon seeing Israelis—"I was surprised to see white Jews!"
Daniel quickly learned Hebrew, then English ("to boldly go where no man has gone before"). His parents never mastered the language.He became the translator for his parents at the doctor, the supermarket, government offices. Both his parents had to leap from African village life to the modern, quick-paced Israeli life. The patriarchal village life was turned on its head as children quickly adapted to their new life while parents' and grandparents' African memories seemed to be all that remained for them.
Does Daniel encounter racism? He told me, "it happens." He prefers to think about how much has changed in his life for the better. And his work as the US marketing director for Megemaria enables him to help other Ethiopian Jews find their place in Israel.
Daniel could have told his story with sadness and bitterness over the pain and suffering of so many in his family.Instead, dressed in his Purim costume, he is poised to return home to his two children and celebrate.His exodus story ends in redemption –his own and his continuing work to help others frame their own story of redemption.
Within each of us is a journey tale. We may not have as epic a tale as Daniel or as Vera and Alla, but we have packed our metaphorical suitcases and traveled through our lives. We have the power to frame our journey to inspire. This Passover, let's recount our individual tales along with our historical journeys as a people. Passover is the perfect opportunity to launch your own family storytelling project.
Hag Sameah—may your Passover overflow with story.
For an article about how Ehtiopia's remaining 6000 Jews are celebrating Passover this year, check this article from The Times of Israel